Was a Los Angeles police officer “a rogue cop” with a partner willing to cover up for him in the beating of an ex-Hollywood power broker?
Or was the former executive and banker — who is suing the LAPD for excessive force by officers in 2012 — actually in a “drug induced psychosis” from consuming bath salts?
“It is not about force, it is about who is credible,” Denise Zimmerman, an attorney representing the city and Miller told jurors. “There are two very different stories. Who do you believe?”
Jurors are scheduled to begin deliberating in the excessive force and civil rights case Friday after having heard three days of testimony about the arrest of Mulligan, 54, a former co-chairman of Universal Pictures.
He suffered multiple nose fractures, a broken shoulder blade and a bloody scalp after the officers took him into custody in Highland Park, a couple of hours after detaining him at nearby Occidental College and leaving him at a motel.
Mulligan's attorney, Louis “Skip” Miller, said his client's testimony and medical evidence show he was struck in the face with a baton by Nichols, and a baton was used to break his shoulder blade as his hair was torn from his scalp during a 1 a.m. encounter on Meridian Avenue.
“The most compelling evidence is the pictures,” he said, flashing an image of Mulligan's bloodied face on a high-definition TV just feet from the eight-person jury. “Pictures tell a thousand words and don’t lie.”
He noted that an expert medical witness for Mulligan’s legal team testified that only a baton could have caused such injuries and that if his face hit the curb or sidewalk on the right side, he would have suffered road rash, which he did not.
Miller conceded his client had previously used bath salts but was not under the influence of the drug that night. Earlier that night, he said, the officers detained Mulligan near Occidental College.
Instead of letting him go after determining he was not under the influence of drugs or committed a crime, Miller said, the officers took him to the Highland Park Motel — an establishment a third officer testified was known for housing criminals.
Once there, Miller said, they ordered Mulligan to stay at the motel until morning, warning him he would be dead if he left. Fearing for his safety Mulligan fled, the attorney said.
Nichols caught up with Mulligan a few hours later and smashed him across the nose with his baton, Miller said.
“James Nichols — our position is he is a rogue. He is a sadistic person,” Miller said.
Miller questioned Nichols' testimony that he never took his baton out of his police cruiser and he never used it that night.
“Sure looks used to me,” Miller said, holding up the worn-looking weapon.
Zimmerman told jurors both officers testified Mulligan was never hit with a baton in the head and the only witnesses who said he was were Mulligan and his two paid experts.
“Brian Mulligan was in the midst of a drug-induced psychosis on the night of May 15, 2012,” she said, noting he told officers he had taken bath salts four days before.
Zimmerman said much of the night’s events were made up by Mulligan.
“It was like Mr. Toad’s wild ride,” she said.
If Mulligan’s testimony was to be believed, she said, events began when an unknown officer without a badge handcuffed Mulligan after he left an Eagle Rock smoke shop.
That officer sent him across the street to a scary apartment complex, where he claimed to have seen someone being tortured, and it was that fear that sent him running to Occidental College, past a well-lighted Jack in the Box.
“Does that sounds reasonable?” she asked jurors.
She said the city’s medical expert, a San Diego trauma surgeon, testified that a baton hit to the head would have been fatal and that Mulligan's injuries were the result of him falling or banging his head on the ground as he violently struggled with the two officers.
To believe Mulligan, she added, “You have to believe that (Nichols) wanted to kill that man for leaving a hotel.”
“Drugs, delusions and denials,” said Peter Ferguson, Nichols’ attorney, in summing up the case. “It started six months before when Mr. Mulligan started snorting bath salts.
"He didn’t get them from a doctor, he got them from a head shop…and in the six months, the bath salts stated having an effect.”